Appeal to a magistrate or file election petitions after Local Govt polls- GECOM Chairman reminds commission

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 April 2023, 18:50 by Denis Chabrol

Left to right: Ganesh Mahipaul, Amanza Walton-Desir, Vinceroy Jordan, Sherwayne Holder, Dawn Hastings-Williams and Shaneika Haynes.

As A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) intensified its claims of irregularities in the nomination process for the June 12, 2023 Local Government Elections, the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Retired Justice Claudette Singh on Wednesday reminded the seven-member commission that contestants should seek redress about the alleged forgery of names of nominators and candidates through an appeal to a magistrate or election petitions, Election Commissioner Vincent Alexander said Thursday.

He said Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Retired Justice Claudette Singh referred commissioners to the Local Authorities Elections Act at a commission meeting on Thursday.

Mr Alexander further explained that where candidates and nominators have been approved but there are objections such as a claim of someone having not been validly elected, the GECOM Chairman cited the Local Authorities Elections Act that provides for an election petition. “The petition only happens after elections,” he said.

Mr Alexander said he was seeking legal advice. “I find it difficult that the law intended that if you discern these problems before the election that you have to wait for a petition,” he said.

The law states that where  the  returning  officer  has  refused  to approve a list of candidates, the representative and deputy representative of the list, or either of them, may, not later than the 20th day before election day appeal against such refusal to the magistrate of the magisterial district in which are situated the offices of the council. The law states that the magistrate  shall  hear  the  appeal  and deliver judgment within such time before election day as will enable   the   returning   officer   duly   to   comply   with   the requirement of section 51 relating to publication of the list; and the judgment of the magistrate shall not be subject to appeal.

The law says the magistrate may dismiss the appeal , approve    the     list     to     which    the returning officer has refused to give his approval; or    approve  the  modifications   as may seem just, list  with  such to   the   magistrate, and when  the  magistrate  approves  a  list,  with  or  without modification, the list as approved by him shall have effect as if it had been approved by the returning officer.

Mr Alexander said that already steps were being taken in Aranaputa (Region Nine Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo) to file an appeal with the magistrate in that district as there was no approval of the nominators. People’s Progressive Party Civic-aligned Election Commissioner Sase Gunraj, however, said the list of nominees was rejected because the Representative of the List of candidates arrived late as the appointed time countrywide was 10 AM to 2 PM.

Asked whether specific instances of alleged forgery had been brought to the attention of the seven-member Commission, he said that there were complaints that one person allegedly signed as the nominator for more than one persons in constituencies 1 to 4 in the Woodlands-Bel Air Neighbourhood Local Authority Area, West Coast Berbice.

In the case of Wakenaam, Mr Alexander and Mr Gunraj said that concern was raised that a petition was required but that was not done because the Returning Officer rescinded his approval, gave them a letter of defects. He said they have since responded to the defects and have gotten approval.

Earlier Thursday, the opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) said if those allegations of forgery were not resolved, efforts would be made to stop the Local Government Elections for the 70 neighbourhood and 10 town councils. “We are exploring, as is our right to, every avenue to ensure that we have a free, fair, credible local government election so all of it is on the table; none of it is off the table,” APNU parliamentarian Amanza Walton-Desir.

Ms Walton-Desir dismissed assertions by the Chief Election Officer Vishnu Persaud that GECOM was not empowered to probe allegations of fraud but to point out defects for the contestants to remedy. Pressed on whether GECOM had a specific law to conduct such allegations, she insisted that the election management body could play a major role that could eventually lead to the prosecution of offenders. “The totality of the legal framework empowers GECOM to investigate these matters… I’m saying when you take the totality of the powers that GECON has , they certainly have the ability to investigate whether there was fraud and then hand those findings over to the authorities. They may not have the power to prosecute the fraud, but certainly they have the power to investigate,” she told a news conference.

APNU also said that Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton on Tuesday wrote Police Commissioner Clifton Hicken requesting a meeting to discuss  his concerns and present evidence. “This serves to request a meeting with you to discuss and present documented evidence of electoral fraud committed by agents of the PPP. These acts are criminal in nature and require the intervention of the Guyana Police Force to bring those who have committed these crimes to justice,” Mr Norton told Mr Hicken.

APNU Chairman Sherwayne on Thursday provided pictures of nomination records showing the names of three persons who he said have died but signatures appeared next to them along with their identification numbers as backers for candidates in constituency 7, Evergreen Paradise NDC Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam). They are Lennox Thomas Mingo, Ruth Archer and Hanoman Bacha as well Mancia George in Constituency 6, Evergreen/Paradise NDC Region Two. Mr Holder said Monifa Barrington is alive on a cruise ship and did not sign any LGE document.

Mr Holder said those were discovered from a quick run of these two lists. He added that there were also “tons of names of persons who are not living in the area but their signatures are there.”

Asked whether those were brought to the attention of the Returning Officer, Mr Holder was unsure whether the relatives of the deceased persons had lodged formal complaints but he was certain that APNU objected to several of the very names during the claims and objection period but they were not removed. “These will certainly be in our compiled submission to GECOM Commission,” he said.

APNU said Guyanese at home and abroad have been contacting her political organisation, saying that their relatives were deceased and so their names could not have been associated with the Local Government Elections.

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo later countered those accusations, saying that the People’s National Congress Reform has a history of rigging elections and has resorted to intimidating mainly Afro-Guyanese in Region Five. “I said once the reports are made, they will be investigated by the police and action taken it’s not directing the police to do anything. It’s making sure that cases of intimidation are investigated and not swept under the carpet,” he said.